Monday, December 07, 2009
On how to restore native brook trout to Queset Brook, North Easton, Massachusetts
Queset Brook in North Easton, Massachusetts was for ten thousand years the native home of the brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis). They were extirpated from North Easton 200 years ago when numerous dams were built on Queset Brook to power saw mills and shovel mills.
The earliest reference to Queset Brook, in the History of the Town of Easton (Chaffin 1886) states: "The earliest name given to it was Mill River, if we except the name Trout-Hole Brook, which, however, was only applied to that portion of it which runs through the east part of North-Easton village."
The ability of the "Trout Hole Brook" portion of Queset Brook in North Easton to support trout in the 20th century was proven by William Amory Parker ("Mister Parker"), who for many years in the 1960s and 1970s paid to privately stock brown trout (Salmo trutta) in "Parker's Pond," which is the small dammed pond on Queset Brook behind his house on North Main Street. Mr. Parker let us neighborhood kids fish for and catch these trout and play in his fields and woods, which is why he did it. Many of these stocked trout lived for many years in the pond and brook above it and below it and grew to lengths exceeding 20 inches.
Even after Mr. Parker died and the trout stocking in Queset Brook stopped in the mid 1970s, older and larger trout were still seen in the brook for many years, particularly in the stretch behind Sundell's garage, in the tunnel underneath North Main Street, next to the Ames Free Library, underneath Shep Williams' Antrim Hammer Shop house, underneath the arched stone bridge just above Shep Williams' house, and in the brook from the Hoeshop Pond dam to the inlet of Parker's Pond. When brook trout were stocked in Picker Pond in 1975 to celebrate Easton's 250th anniversary, teen anglers like John Brown and my brother Tim Watts for several years caught brookies in Queset Brook in its short, tortuous, green briar jungle from Picker Pond to Hoeshop Pond.
One of the reasons these trout could survive in Queset Brook even in the heat of the summer is a tiny brook that comes from the Easton Town Pool, which is built on top of a number of large natural springs that begin on Lincoln Street next to the Easton Lutheran Church and are called, collectively, "Lincoln Springs." The pond behind the Easton Town Pool is fed by spring water as is the Town Pool. This is why the original Easton Water Works was built at the site of the Easton Town Pool. Visitors to the town pool in the 1970s will remember the odd, 20-foot high, shingled "pyramid" in the center of the parking lot. Underneath this pyramid was the well head.
Lincoln Spring and its spring brook are still there behind the pond above the Town Pool and the entire "bowl" of land behind the Lutheran Church and the DeCouto's house is a natural spring water seep that funnels into the dug-out basin that is now the Easton Town Pool. All of the water from these springs and seeps is channelled into an old, narrow channel lined with granite blocks which crosses Parker's field and enters Queset Brook at the inlet of Mr. Parker's Pond.
If you go to Parker's field you can still see the overgrown, long and straight ditches cut into the meadow to drain it. In the 1970s, during the heat of the summer, the trout that Mr. Parker stocked would crowd into the tiny slot of the drainage channel from the Town Pool to keep cool. These were also prime frog catching sites for kids. [Some of the ditches may have been made to enhance the growth of native cranberries, which are still found in the stretch of meadow between the Town Pool and Parker's field.]
If you go to the Easton Town Pool in the late fall, after the pool has been drained, and walk around on its bottom, you will see natural springs bubbling up from its bottom that all flow into a central drain beneath the far dock. As kids we used to see tiny hornpout in the drain. How these hornpout and, downstream, the trout, survived the boatloads of swimming pool chemicals dumped into the pool every few weeks every summer to keep kids from getting ringworm is a mystery.
Survival needs for Queset Brook's native trout
In Massachusetts, Easton is a type locality and model for effective, citizen-led open space protection. Efforts to protect open space in Easton began in earnest in the mid 1960s. The results are manifest. But while the citizens of Easton have become adept and efficient at preserving and protecting open land in the town in the past 45 years, the glaring hole in these protection efforts has been the failure to address the effect of 250 years of damming on its brooks and watersheds. Queset Brook is the poster child of this omission.
To restore an extirpated species, you need to know what extirpated them in the first place. At Queset Brook, the answer is simple: numerous small, impassable dams. These dams have had two deleterious effects on native trout. First, they impound the brooks into small ponds, which raise the water temperature of the brook above the maximum which trout can live. Second, these dams fragment the brook into tiny sections and prevent trout from freely moving up and down the brook to find suitable seasonal habitat for all life stages and for giving birth.
At Queset Brook, the effect of this fragmentation and impoundment is most acute during the summer when water temperatures are at trout's thermal maximum. Trout are incredibly adept at finding suitable spawning, growing and summering habitat, if they are not obstructed from doing so, and if the critical habitat they seek is not altered or destroyed. The dams on Queset Brook, as small as they are, have the effect of defeating all of the evolutionary survival techniques which have allowed native brook trout to live in the brook since the last Ice Age. For these reasons, native brook no longer live in Queset Brook, nor can they in its existing condition. The efforts of Mr. William Parker shows that even when trout were annually re-introduced into Queset Brook for many years, they could not successfully reproduce and maintain a wild population as they did for the past 100 centuries. Mr. Parker's experiment shows something is amiss in Queset Brook.
Restoring Queset Brook so its native Brook Trout
can live in it.
A plan to restore the native trout of Queset Brook must eliminate, or reduce to insignificance, those factors which caused their extirpation and have confounded repeated efforts to restore them. This means that removing the small, remaining dams on Queset Brook upstream of North Main Street in North Easton must be a first step. These two dams are the Hoeshop dam and the Parker's Pond dam. Removal or lowering of these two dams would restore all of Queset Brook from its headwaters at Ames Long Pond and the former Flyaway Pond above Shovelshop Pond to its natural channel, elevation and habitat conditions. The next issue is the dams at Shovelshop Pond and Langwater Pond, which impound and destroy virtually all of the native habitat for trout in Queset Brook from Sullivan Avenue to Sheep Pasture, or about one half of the section of Queset Brook that Chaffin (1886) called "Trout Hole Brook." Let's consider the history of these waters in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
What is the history and purpose of Langwater Pond?
Queset Brook was first dammed at Main Street in the early 1700s. The pond at this dam site was greatly enlarged in the late 1800s when the Ames family built a large estate at the junction of Queset and Whitman Brooks. This pond, and the farm next to it, was called "Langwater." By the mid 1970s, Langwater had completely filled with silt and mud and was only a foot or two deep in many areas. At this time, the Ames family paid several local contractors to dig all of the silt and mud out from behind the dam at Main Street so as to deepen and "restore" the pond.
Local contractors for several years (1977-78) drained Langwater and used it as their own private gravel pit. The "reclamation project" became a local joke when several 20 ton excavators got so mired in the muck at the front of the pond that they had to be chained and dragged out by other excavators. Towards the middle of Langwater, off the sheer cliff called "Big Pout," the contractors dug down to nearly 50 feet below the pond's waterline to get the most commercially valuable gravel deposits, until they were finally fired for failing to follow the prescribed dredging plan [and according to Joe Cardoza, hit several huge springs that flooded the excavators]. Upon hiring of a new contractor (Wayne Benson), the narrow, temporary channel on the west side of the pond was knocked down, the dam at Main Street was rebuilt, and the pond was raised again. This was the last time anyone would see the Queset Brook in its valley again.
From the brief glimpses of when it was drained in 1977-1978 and its shoreline topography, the Queset Brook at Langwater Pond was a deep, narrow, cliff and ledge-lined valley, with hemlock and pines rooted in massive outcrops of glacially worn bedrock that fell suddenly to a chasm of rapids, and pools and riffles far below: Trout Hole Brook. Nobody has seen this place in more than 200 years, but it is still there, stumps and all, under 30 feet of clear, still water. Based on Chaffin's description of Trout-Hole Brook as that part of Queset on the "east side" of North Easton village, the section from the dam at Shovelshop to the dam at Langwater must be what was called Trout-Hole Brook.
Today, Langwater (or "Fred's Pond") is an anomaly. It is smack in the center of North Easton Village. It floods nearly a mile of Queset and Whitman Brooks from Main Street to Elm Street and yet there is no canoe launch on the pond, and except for the conservation land on Pond Street next to Big Pout (where the shoreline is extremely steep), there is no public access to the pond. Oh well.
Unlike Langwater, the public has much greater access to Shovelshop Pond, primarily along Pond Street. Shovelshop was drained and dug out in 1973-1974 which removed a century or so of toxic, industrially polluted sediments, even as the Steadfast Rubber Company was pumping fresh toxic chemicals into the pond at the same time, via their concrete culvert at the corner of Oliver Street next to the entrance to David Ames' house. This illegal, toxic discharge only stopped after my cousins Todd and Peter Heino and myself put the weird vaseline-type gook coming out of the pipe into mason jars and walked the jars down Elm Street to Mary Connolly at the Easton Board of Health. We were about 11 at the time (Pete was 8). Thanks to Mary, soon after, the discharge of weird toxic goop from the cement pipe into Shovelshop Pond suddenly stopped.
Today, the multi-year dredging of Shovelshop and Langwater Ponds on Queset Brook in the mid 1970s would be totally prohibited by natural resources conservation laws. These activities were also prohibited by federal and state law in the 1970s but were allowed to "squeak through," which is shorthand for "don't tell us much about it and let's hope nobody sues you/us."
Up until about 2000, the dam at Shovelshop allowed the water of Queset Brook to flow down into its original channel, in a deep ravine next to Pond Street, until it was impounded again by the backwatering effect of the dam at Langwater beneath Main Street.
Since about 2000, the heirs/assigns of the Ames family stopped up the dam completely and increased the level of Shovelshop Pond by about three feet, causing Queset Brook to flow down an artificial channel several hundred yards to the north and along the Ames property formerly owned by David Ames. As a result, the original channel of Queset Brook along Pond Street is now virtually empty and the "new channel" created by this raising of the pond level is marked with numerous large "No Trespassing" signs. In effect, the entire free-flowing section of Queset Brook from Shovelshop to Langwater Pond has been usurped by David Ames' heirs/assigns and moved onto their posted property.
My visit to the brook on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2009 shows the Ames heirs/assigns have removed all the vegetation along the brook and place large obstructions (cut logs) in the brook channel itself. While I understand the Ames heirs/assigns might wish to have a nice, neat lawn going right to the bank of Queset Brook, it's kind of against the law.
Interestingly, my brother Tim told me about wandering around the brook below Parker's Pond around 2000-2001 and seeing trout jumping at the base of Parker's dam. That same fall, at Thanksgiving, I was walking down North Main Street across from the Ames Free Library and noticed a trout spawning nest (called a redd) in Queset Brook just below where the brook exits the tunnel beneath the street. These redds are very distinctive because the female trout use their tails to dig a depression in the stream gravel in which they deposit their eggs. They then move a few feet upstream and dig another depression and the current pushes the stones downstream to cover the eggs. Curious about our observations, Tim consulted the late Joe Cardoza who told him that during this time, the state had been putting some trout in Shovelshop in the spring, as Joe said, "for the kids to catch."
Apparently the trout Tim saw jumping at the base of Parker's dam had swum up from Shovelshop and were living in the brook, and based on my observation, had spawned in the brook that fall. Whether the spawning was successful, I am not sure, however, since trout spawn in late fall, it shows the water conditions in the brook remain good enough to support trout through the critical low-water and high temperatures of the summer months. This also shows how useful it would be if the trout could get over Parker's dam and be able to utilize the entire brook up to Flyaway and Ames Long Pond. It's all about connectivity and the lack thereof.
But what about Whitman's Brook?
Whitman's Brook rises in a series of small natural ponds near the Easton/Stoughton line and flows southeasterly to its junction with Queset Brook at Langwater Pond. The northerly half of Langwater is actually an impoundment of the southernmost terminus of Whitman's Brook. Two small ponds on the Springhill estate impound the brook. The lowest is known as the "Horseshoe Pond" because of its shape, and is very small and shallow. The second is known as the "back pond" and was created by the Ames' family for cranberry cultivation and is also quite small. A second set of very old cranberry bogs (with typical, straight-lined ditches) is found at the southern end of Totman's field just south of the Easton/Stoughton line. There is a significant spring entering the brook just above its crossing with Elm Street, which unfortunately is covered over by the road going to the Spring Hill subdivision (how they were allowed to build a road right on top of a spring is beyond me), and the spring now goes through a small culvert into the brook. The water is excellent and the spring runs all summer. Most likely, Whitman's Brook also supported some brook trout prior to being ponded.
What Is to Be Done?
Damned if I know. Okay, I'll bite. If I was King of the World, I'd breach all four dams -- Hoeshop, Parker's, Shovelshop and Langwater -- and let Queset Brook revert to its natural channel, creating an immense amount of green space and wildlife habitat in North Easton village, and restore the necessary conditions for trout to resume living in Trout Hole Brook. The logical first step would be to breach the old wooden Hoeshop dam, since it impounds very little water and is partly on conservation land owned by the Town of Easton. This would fully restore Queset from Parker's to Flyaway and Ames Long Pond, and more important, would restore connectivity from the brook above Parker's to the thermal refugia in the brook coming from Lincoln Springs. The next thing I'd do is test the water in that little brook to see if it is being affected by the chlorine used at the Town Pool. It is illegal to discharge chlorine into a waterbody in concentrations that affect aquatic life. So that needs to be checked out. And, at a minimum, I would put fish ladders at Langwater, Shovelshop and Parker's to restore connectivity. Given the springs which Joe Cardoza said they hit digging out Langwater in the 1970s, it's possible that the water in the deepest parts of the pond are cold enough and oxygenated enough to act as thermal refugia for trout during the critical summer months.
Anyways. Here's a little movie Tim and I made when we walked around Lincoln Springs and up to Flyaway and Picker Pond a few Thanksgivings ago. This is the source of cold, pure water that kept the native brook trout of Trout Hole Brook alive. The first frame shows one of the spring holes bubbling up from the bottom of the Town Pool. You can hear the guns from the Ames Rifle & Pistol Club in the background. The music is by Ali Farka Toure, from his album "Radio Mali."